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Post-Una, Gujarat model and BJP are not acceptable to UP Dalits, they seek alliance with Muslims: Ram Kumar

By Our Representative
Well-known Dalit rights activist from Uttar Pradesh (UP), Ram Kumar, convener, Dynamic Action Group, an advocacy group representing 60 Dalit rights organizations in the state, was in Gujarat to participate in the first Dalit rights rally in Rajkot on August 31. One who knows most of the top politicians of UP personally, but is not attached to any political party, Kumar talked to Counterview on Dalit mood in UP:
Q: Has the Una incident impacted politics in UP? If yes, then in which way?
A: The Una incident, in which four Dalit youths were flogged by cow vigilantes on July 11, was a turning point in UP politics. It helped Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati take the centrestage, pushing in the backdrop the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). If till then the Dalits were still in a dilemma, Una made it clear that the cow vigilantes (go rakshaks) were not just against the Muslims but also against the Dalits.
Q: How?
A: The go rakshaks would attack any Muslim trader taking cattle from one place to another for trading. The attacks were common, even on those transporting cows to cattle fairs, which are common in UP. It has destroyed Muslims' hold over cattle trade. The trade has passed on to Hindus now. Muslims fear transporting animals. However, Dalits seemed less concerned, even if their disillusionment with Prime Minsiter Narendra Modi had begun. With Una, tables turned. The video which went viral showed go rakshaks beating up Dalit youths. It was seen by large sections of Dalits. It had a wide impact. Dalits for the first time found that they too were the targets.
Q: Were there any attacks on Dalits by cow vigilantes in UP?
A: Even if they were, they didn't come to light. However, just a fortnight after the Una incident, four Dalits were beaten up by 20 go rakshaks in Tagrohi village near Lucknow. The Dalits had to run for their life. First Information Report (FIR) was filed. This triggered protests. Dharnas were organized.
Q: But you said disillusionment with Dalits began much earlier…
A: True. First the Dalits became infuriated after Union minister VK Singh, who kicked up a row with his remark that the Centre cannot be blamed if somebody throws a stone at a dog. He was referring to the Faridabad Dalit burning incident, in which two toddlers died on October 19-20 night. Thereafter came the suicide of Rohith Vemula. This was the first incident which brought Muslims and Dalits closer to each other. Though belonging to Hyderabad, Vemula had planned to show the film “Muzaffarnagar Baqi Hai”, a film of one of the worst communal riots in UP. Frequent attempts to prove that he was not a Dalit backfired. The Dalits in UP reacted angrily. They saw the suicide as an attempt by the Modi administration to cow down a young and brilliant Dalit scholar. The Dalits took out rallies in protest in every district, in every block. The Una incident was the last straw, which turned the anger against the go rakshaks and the BJP, which supports them.
Q: Do you think that the Dalits and Muslims will come together and support Mayawati?
A: This appears to be the scenario, as of today. Already, thanks to Una, Mayawati has become a front-runner for the UP assembly polls, which are likely to take place in February next year. No doubt, especially in western UP, where a large number of Muslims are former landlords (zamindars), there has been a strong contradiction between them and Dalits. Yet, things have changed, thanks to Una. Remember, Dalits form 22 per cent of UP population, and Muslims 17 per cent.
Q: So you think that majority of Dalits will support Mayawati? And what about Muslims?
A: Well, in my calculation, of Dalits, Chamars form 12 per cent of UP population. They will go with Mayawati lock stock and barrel. As for other sections of Dalits anywhere between 60 and 80 per cent will support Mayawati. Coming to Muslims, in western UP, the situation may not be as good for Mayawati. Here, the Samajwadi Party support base among Muslims will remain intact. But things will be different in rest of the state. Wherever they see a winning BSP candidate, the Muslims will vote for her or him. They don't want BJP, it is clear.
Q: Can you throw more light on the Dalit-Muslim alliance, if that is what may be the future of UP's electoral politics?
A: The Urdu newspapers, which would hardly support the Dalit cause, have suddenly begun highlighting the Dalits' plight in UP, Gujarat, elsewhere. Read any Urdu daily – “Inquilab”, “Qaumi Awaz”, “Nai Duniya”, or the Urdu edition of “Rashtriya Sahara” – the tone is the same. Upper caste-controlled media, on the other hand, is putting out articles after articles pointing to why the alliance between Dalits and Muslims cannot happen.
Q: Is the BJP worried?
A: Of course. One of major reasons that attracted Dalits towards the BJP in 2014 Parliamentary polls, when it won 71 of 80 Lok Sabha seats, was Gujarat model. Dalits thought, with Narendra Modi in power, their conditions would improve, as they did in Gujarat. There would be no law and order problem, prices would fall. Things did not changed. Worse, VK Singh, Rohith Vemula and Una have together demolished the model, at least among the Dalits. They say now, BJP is not for Dalits. They now ask – Is this the Gujarat model which Modi advocated? They also ask: Why was Modi quiet on Rohith Vemula? Why did his ministers continue attacking him, even after his death? Why has he not spoken on Una? BJP has lost Dalits completely.
Q: So, what is the BJP’s strategy, as of today?
A: Having lost Dalits, it is fast moving to find base among upper castes, especially Brahmins, who form another big voting chunk, as also other backward classes (OBCs), the biggest group. Brahmin votes will be divided – Congress is still strong among them. As for OBCs, majority of them would vote Samajwadi Party, which is already the second most important contestant, relegating BJP to the third position.
Q: There are strong allegations of corruption against Mayawati. Would that affect her prospects?
A: No. Dalits see it like this: Upper castes have amassed huge wealth through corrupt means, exploiting them generation after generation, something Manusmriti justifies. So if BJP and Congress leaders have 20 choppers, and Samajwadi Party 10, what's wrong if Mayawati has two? Besides, any attack on Mayawati is seen as an attack on Dalits. See what happened in Gujarat. The moment BJP leaders, gathered for a sadbhavna rally in Una the other day, attacked Mayawati, the Dalits moved away. The BJP had to wind up the programme. This has been widely reported.
Q: How empowered are Dalits in UP?
A: Things have changed considerably. Dalits are far more politically aware than what they were earlier. While I live in Lucknow, I belong to Mominpur village in Unnao district. After a gap of 30 years, I went to my village. I met all those whom I knew them. I remember, how if a Brahmin passed by, we had to stand up in respect. Now no more. My uncle, very old, told me, under no circumstance, this old order should return. Now, you can see Dalit youths joking on Brahmin priests (pandas) – I heard one of them asking a panda, “Where are you going my dear?”, and the answer came, “To perform puja at someone's place.” Pat came the answer: “You you are going to get some alms (bakshish)? Go go... Hope you get a good sum. Good luck.” I wouldn’t imagine this type of remark three decades ago.

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