Monday, July 25, 2016

Gujarat BJP "sure", Dalit unrest wouldn't affect party's support base; Congress thinks otherwise

Gujarat CM talking to an Una Dalit victim on July 20
By Rajiv Shah
Dalits across Gujarat, especially in Saurashtra, may have agitated against the July 11 incident, when four youths belonging to the Rohit (chamar) sub-caste were violently beaten up with iron rods after being tied with SUV, first in village Mota Samadhiyala and then in Una town of south Saurashtra.
But the BJP leadership in Gujarat appears to think that the incident is “not much of political consequence”, and people would forget about it “very soon”.
Senior BJP leaders this correspondent talked with said, there would be “no impact” on the overall political scenario, as the 2017 assembly elections are “far away”. The all-Gujarat bandh, called by various Dalit organizations last Wednesday, is being brushed aside as “symbolic” and “confined to isolated localities”, and “largely a non-political affair.”
BJP state president Vijay Rupani, a longtime confidante of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, told this correspondent, “A largely law and order problem, the BJP government has taken all necessary steps to address the Una victims. Compensation has been paid, and we are sure genuine problems of the Dalits will be addressed.”
He added, “Things turned bad because of the attention it received in media. We feel, efforts are now being made by some national leaders like Mayawati and Arvind Kejriwal to take advantage of all that has happened in Gujarat with an eye on Dalit votes in the wake of forthcoming elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.”
Yet, the party’s Dalit leaders are feeling the pinch of the community ire. Some of them even faced gherao by Dalit community mobs. BJP’s Dalit MLA from Asarwa, Ahmedabad, RM Patel, an ex-IAS official, who resigned to join the party in 2012, told this correspondent, “The issue of Dalit oppression must be addressed, otherwise we may have pay the price…”
Dalit BJP MP in Rajya Sabha, Shambhunath Tundiya, was the first distance himself from the ruling BJP, calling the Una incident as “the last straw”. He warned, if the government “fails to address” the issue of Dalit oppression in Gujarat, “no one can stop them from agitating.”
Tundiya belongs to the Dalits’ Garoda community – loosely called “Dalit brahmins”. A “dharmaguru” for Dalits, he has a religious seat in Zanzarka in Saurashtra. A video went viral on social media where Tundiya was heard saying, “The rulers must understand: The Dalits are forced to eat beef of a dead cow because they are forced by circumstances.”
Meanwhile, keen political observers, suggesting BJP indifference, point out that Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel gave her first statement condemning incident only on July 18, a week after the incident. Finding the agitation spreading to different towns of Saurashtra, she towards the state government’s resolve to act quickly by filing charge sheet would be filed “within 60 days”.
Announcing a CID probe, she visited Una on July 20 when, say BJP sources, she was “asked to go there by Delhi” because the matter was acquiring “national dimensions”.
There is reason for the BJP leadership to feel "relaxed" despite restiveness among its Dalit leaders. Forming less than seven per cent of the population of Gujarat, Dalits, say observers, “do not count” much in state politics, unlike Uttar Pradesh and Punjab where they are 21 and 26 per cent respectively.
Vijay Parmar, a Dalit rights activist who heads Janvikas, an NGO in Ahmedabad, says, “Their votes do not matter, whether it is BJP or Congress. Both bank heavily on non-Dalit votes in scheduled caste reserved constituencies. During elections, they do not even open offices in Dalit areas.”
As for the Congress, it reacted to the Una incident only on July 19, a day after the chief minister made her first announcement. Opposition leader in the Gujarat state assembly Shankarsinh Vaghela and state BJP president Bharatsinh Solanki issued a statement condemning the incident and seeking a date to meet the governor in order to “represent” against the BJP government’s “indifference”!
However, Congress leaders appear upbeat following Dalit agitations. Senior BJP leader Arjun Modhwadia told this correspondent, “The unrest has spread beyond Dalits. A rally of about 10,000 people took place in Porbandar on January 20, which was organized by Dalits, and joined by others.”
Another Congress leader, refusing to be named, said, following the latest incident, the Hindutva inroads among the Dalits has been “reversed”. He said, “Dalits were used against Muslims during the 2002 Gujarat riots, and had moved away from the Congress. This would halt.”

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