By Badri Narayan
There is no monolithic, pan-Indian Dalit vote, it is difficult to trace a homogenous pattern of voting. Even in north India, choices would vary between UP and Bihar. Within UP, it would differ depending on the caste groups that come under the Dalit/scheduled caste category.
Among middle-class educated and employed Dalits who act as opinion makers, or young people in recent years, one can discern opposition to BJP. Whether it was the Rohith Vemula issue, the violence in Una, the arrest of Chandrashekhar Azad ‘Ravan’ or the Shabbirpur incident, a narrative took hold in this section of the Dalit community that the BJP government was not on their side.
This played an important role in mobilising a section against BJP in various states. Depending on their location, this section has voted for the Congress, for the BSPled gathbandhan, and for regional parties that provide an alternative to BJP.
In every state, the patterns are set by Dalit castes who have a larger population there. The Malas and Madigas in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, Mahars and Matangs in Maharashtra, Chamars and Valmikis in Punjab and Haryana, Jatavs and Pasis in Uttar Pradesh, and the Paswans and Chamars in Bihar.
Apart from these major Dalit castes, there are three or four other groups in every state who are on the scheduled list and are visible and vocal, but do not get to express their political aspirations. They look for space to gain representation. This includes castes like Dhobi, Kori and Dharikar in UP.
Apart from this second cluster, more than two-thirds of Dalit castes are invisible and marginalised, having failed to produce leaders of their own or the capacity for political contestation. Because they are poor and few in numbers, they are yet to feel a sense of Ambedkarite or Bahujan consciousness as propounded by Kanshi Ram.
In other words, Ambedkarite politics is a uniting factor mainly among educated and employed middle-class Dalits, neo-Buddhists and castes like Mahars,Chamars and Jatavs. The others remain outside this circle, not yet politicised. This is the task for parties and leaders like Mayawati, Baman Meshram, Prakash Ambedkar.
RSS is also working among these most marginalised castes. It organises caste conferences where Sangh pracharaks explore, invent and reshape narratives of identity. The histories and heroes of these communities are celebrated and incorporated within Hindutva. RSS projects these Dalit groups as “rashtra rakshak” and “dharm rakshak”. Their groundwork, along with their appropriation of Ambedkar, blocks radical Ambedkarite consciousness from taking root.
BJP has also targeted these smaller non-Jatav communities through government schemes like Ujjwala and PM Awas Yojana, creating a fracture in Dalit votes. This is how it added these less visible communities to its social combinations. This expansion of Hindutva ideology that showed up in other states was also reflected in UP.
For all these Dalit groups to emerge as a single voting bloc, they need to first get to a socio-economic threshold to have the capacity to aspire and the political consciousness that will lead to dignity and respect. Bahujan and Ambedkarite consciousness needs to spread to these most marginal Dalit groups. Ideally, intellectuals and leaders should emerge from within them to carry out the work.
(The writer is director of the Govind Ballabh Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad)