The BJP has just done a Bihar in Uttar Pradesh. In Bihar, its electoral prospects were damaged by no less than the RSS chief. In UP, a middling BJP leader called Mayawati, Dalit icon B R Ambedkar’s self-anointed legatee, words that shouldn’t be used even in drawing room conversation. The BJP has been swift in expelling the leader but it remains to be seen whether this is perception management to control the damage not just in UP but also Punjab, a state with the country’s highest Dalit population simultaneously going to the polls.
But for this intemperate statement, the BJP had learnt from the Waterloo in Bihar. It was luring away Mayawati’s lieutenants, started cobbling a Bihar-type grouping of backward caste leaders, party chief Amit Shah made the mandatory pilgrimage to a UP Dalit’s house and Prime Minister Narendra Modi inducted five Dalits in his first Cabinet reshuffle. However, Dalit ferment is underway elsewhere too, beginning with Rohith Vemula’s suicide. Mumbai saw a massive Left-Dalit rally against the demolition of Ambedkar Bhavan and large parts of Gujarat shut down against the public flogging of Dalits by vigilantes of a self-styled cow protection unit.
The BJP has scored all these self goals with no provocation from any quarters. Rather the heightened social and religious tensions in several parts of the country are due to the BJP’s upper caste-centric mindset and the low standards in public speaking set by its senior leaders. From Punjab to Maharashtra, the BJP has single-mindedly pushed a vigilante-led cow protection agenda that ignores the reality on the ground. As for using offensive words, wasn’t it junior Minister V K Singh who described journalists as “presstitutes”? And didn’t the Prime Minister term a fellow-politician’s companion as “50 crore ki girlfriend”? As no party can afford to be counted without the Muslim and Dalit votes, the BJP had no choice but to act contrite to keep the latter in good humor. As political temperatures rise in UP and Punjab, time will tell whether the expulsion of the UP BJP leader was a sincere effort to discipline the cadres.