Ahmedabad: As the poll
battle intensifies in Gujarat, the tussle is on for support of the Dalit community, perceived to have moved from the Congress to the
ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) but neglected by both with
discrimination continuing as it has for decades.
"The Narendra Modi government has not implemented any schemes for
the welfare of the Scheduled Castes (SC) like educational
scholarships, employment schemes, financial aid and reservation at
the promotional level," said social activist Father William.
"Atrocities against Dalits are still rife in Gujarat. According to
a survey by Dalit NGO Navsarjan Trust, untouchability still exists
as does manual scavenging," he told IANS.
The Congress, trying desperately to wrest control of Gujarat after
having lost two successive elections, says the BJP regime has been
anti-Dalit but admits that it has done little to win the Dalits,
who form seven to eight percent of the state's 60 million
"Modi's rule and before that Keshubhai's ((Keshubhai Patel's)
government have been anti-Dalit," said Ishwar Makwana, president
of the Congress' SC Morcha.
What about his own party?
"I agree that in recent years, the Congress has drifted away from
But we are rectifying that," said Makwana.
The BJP of course rejects the allegations.
"The Modi regime cares for Dalits. We have provided the community
with reservations in jobs, loans, assistance in businesses and
justice from atrocities," Jivraj Chauhan, president of the Gujarat
BJP's SC wing, told IANS.
As the election fever catches on - polls for the 182-member
assembly are due on Dec 13 and 17 - the parties would do well not
to neglect the Dalit vote, say analysts.
"The Dalit vote, though small, is significant. Dalits can
influence the outcome of the elections in seven-eight
constituencies. Also, 13 constituencies are reserved for the
Scheduled Castes," Manu H. Makwana, head of the sociology
department in Ahmedabad's Gujarat University. told IANS.
Dalits in Gujarat are divided into four major subcastes: Vankars,
Chamars, Garodas, and Valmikis. Gujarati Dalits are found in both
the Hindu and Christian communities.
Dalits in the state have been traditional Congress supporters
since Gujarat was formed in 1960. In the 1970s and 1980s, the
community was part of Congress' 'KHAM' (Kshatriya, Harijan,
Adivasi and Muslim) formula.
But with the rise of the BJP and the polarising work of the
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)
and the Bajrang Dal, many Dalits turned to the right. Indeed,
Sangh outfits have often been accused in the past of brainwashing
young Dalits and provoking them to attack Muslims in many riots,
including that of 2002.
The results seem to prove that the Dalits have embraced the Hindu
right. In 2007, just two of the 13 reserved seats went to the
Congress with the BJP taking the rest. In the 2009 general
elections, both the reserved seats (Kutch and Ahmedabad) went to
Dalit activists and intellectuals bemoan the turn to the right by
some sections of the community.
"The new generation of Dalits in most urban areas of the state
have not seen the terrible sufferings borne by previous
generations, especially in the rural areas. They are loyal to the
BJP as they see the party as a stepping stone to political power,"
"Modi has only favoured landlords and big business. He has done
nothing for the socio-economic uplift of Dalits," he added.
According to a Dalit government official, Dalits who vote for the
BJP "do not know history."
"In 1981 and 1985, when there were strident anti-reservation
campaigns in Gujarat, it was the BJP's predecessor, the Bharatiya
Jana Sangh, that had taken a lead in supporting these campaigns,"
the official said on the condition of anonymity.
The problem is that the Dalit community does not have too many
options other than the BJP and the Congress.
The Republican Party of India does have some presence in Gujarat
as does the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Lok Janshakti Party. But,
as a Dalit activist pointed out, they don't have grassroots
"Plus, the Gujarat BSP and LJP are led by a Brahmin and a Gurjar
respectively. Why will Dalits vote for them?" he asked.
The next government must implement various schemes for the SC,
offer protection from atrocities and remove untouchability,
community leaders say.
Can the Congress and the BJP make up for lost time and focus on
the community's needs, for votes if nothing else?