by Rahul Sonpimple
Once again Delhi is getting ready for political battle of the throne. This time all parties seem well informed about the present political scenario in the city and are taking calculated steps to influence all sections of voters, as the last assembly elections have been an eye opening episode. Dalit votes in the city are estimated to be around 25 lakhs, a significant fraction to change the game and ensure a soothing end for any political contender.
Interestingly, all major political parties after the last assembly election in the city seem to be widening their pool of political considerations for Dalits, since majority of the population lives in severe vulnerability and are placed at the receiving end. This election will also be marked by the absence of any strong non-Congress and non- BJP Dalit –Bahujan political party and leadership since many of them have either assimilated in the ruling party (BJP) or fail to influence the community’s views anymore. For instance the assimilation of Dalit leaders like Udit Raj in BJP and the weakening hold of BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party) in city politics . With such an absence of leadership from within the community, parties like BJP and AAP effectively cash in on the opportunity to attract the community’s votes with their developmental agendas.
While AAP is promising to modernize the cleaning equipments, BJP is venturing to disclaim its image of being a party of upper caste Hindus. With the old rhetoric on inclusive development as Congress has done in the past, both BJP and AAP are claiming to offer a development for Dalits within the larger developmental agenda of the city. However, none of them has outlined how they will execute these promises. Although AAP and BJP both claim to be different from Congress, their strategies to influence Dalit votes by using a Dalit face are similar to the success mantra of Congress.
Kanshi Ram, the founder of BSP, would refer to such Dalit leaders as ‘Chamchas’. At the first glance politics around Dalit voters in the city may seem similar to other parts of the country. However, the complete control of demands by political parties and no negotiation from the community, signals to the powerlessness of Dalits in Delhi, which may not be the case in states like Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. In the case of Dalits in Maharashtra, the creation of demands and political negotiations are not necessarily representative of political aspirations of leaders, rather very often they are a result of struggles led by the community and responses to the daily challenges. In the absence of any struggle or movement from the community, Dalit politics in Delhi completely rests in the clutches of a handful of political agents among Dalits and on mercy of NGOs .
The history of Dalit struggle has always been a struggle for self respect. Despite many re-formative attempts by caste Hindus to neutralize the struggle and retain Dalits in the Hindu fold, Dalits have always challenged such dubious intentions. For instance, in Punjab, young educated Dalits from the Chamar community had first been in the Arya Samaj, attracted by some of its ideals which held open the promise of purification (shuddhi) to the lower castes, they soon became disillusioned by the control of upper castes in the movement and rejected the paternalistic implication of shuddhi that untouchables needed to be ‘purified’. Later they started the Ad-Dharm movement. Moreover, such action, either by challenging caste hegemony or by religious conversion, against the attempts of liberal upper caste Hindus, has always been a part of Dalit history. As a result, acknowledging their struggle for separate socio-religious identity, distinct from Hinduism, has become a political compulsion for political parties.
This struggle has also been integrated in the larger political discourse. However, due to the lack of social movement from the community, recent development of discourse on Dalits in the Capital is colored by conservative notions of both the leading parties i.e. AAP and BJP. Whether it is Modi’s Swachch Bharat Mission launched from Valmiki Basti in New Delhi or Kejriwal’s ideas to give respect to the Dalits, both bear a resemblance to the conservative reformation which their ideologues had initiated in the past. For long, Dalit struggle has critiqued and countered such dubious efforts, however this is apparently not true in the case of recent political scenario in Delhi. In order to create a power of negotiation and a space for self realized demands, Dalits in the city should strive for a strong ideological mobilization and should limit the influence of political agents from community.
Programme officer (Dalit Rights Initiative),
Human Rights Law Network (HRLN)