Allahabad: Disaffection among a large section of Dalits for the Bahujan Samaj Party may have paved the way for fragmentation of this caste group in Uttar Pradesh and led to a "great possibility of them being co-opted in a Hindutva project", says a recently-released book.
"The BJP is trying to acquire the state power by appropriating the Dalits` past and identity as being a Hindu one, so as to bring the Dalits within its fold. Through the Dalits` own myths, heroes and caste histories, the BJP is trying to recreate the memory of various Dalit castes", asserts noted social scientist Badri Narayan in the book "Kanshiram - Leader of the Dalits", published by Penguin-Viking.
The observations assume significance in the wake of the stupendous success of the BJP in the country`s most populous state where it grabbed 71 out of 80 seats even as the BSP drew a blank, suffering its worst-ever debacle since it became a force to reckon with in the 1990s.
Significantly, in her first reaction to the Lok Sabha election results, the BSP supremo Mayawati accused the BJP of having "misled" the Dalits with a persuasive line that they too were a part of the Hindu society.
While the BJP`s tally had risen nearly seven-fold compared with the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the BSP was shattered by the failure to open its account notwithstanding a palpable anti-incumbency sentiment against its arch rival Samajwadi Party.
Narayan, who teaches at the GP Pant Social Science Institute at Allahabad and is the director of the Dalit Resource Centre, a Ford Foundation-funded project, has published traces from the life and legacy of Kanshi Ram, and in the process questioned the mercurial leader`s belief that "Chamar dominance would form the basis of the party" and his having favoured "unifying Dalits under a Chamar leadership as they were more in number and strength".
Underscoring the dominance of Chamars, the caste group to which Mayawati too belongs, as "a major cause of concern", Narayan cites the example of the recruitment of 200 candidates from the Scheduled Castes in the Noida authority, out of whom 199 were from this caste group alone.
"Their dominance has antagonized other numerically strong castes like Pasis, Dhobis, Koeris and Valmiki. Besides, smaller groups such as Jogis, Nats, Rangrejs, Manihars, Bhangis, Helas, Nais, Dhanuks, Khatiks and Kanjars are miles away from the process of democratization. How to bring these groups under the party`s umbrella is a challenge", Narayan notes.
In the book, released recently, Narayan appears to have presaged the political upheaval that was witnessed in UP during the Lok Sabha elections with the remark "there is room for fragmentation among dalits and, in such a scenario, there is a great possibility of them being co-opted in a Hindutva project designed to communalise the dalit identity".
Terming as "fascinating" the efforts of the BJP to win over the Dalits, Narayan says the party "usually organises big celebrations around each Dalit hero selected, and these are marked by a certain (kind of) Hindutva aesthetics. Various kinds of badges, stickers, cards and so on are printed with the images of the Dalit heroes for distribution among the people. Highly colourful and decorative, these portray them as chivalrous warriors in the image of Hindu legendary figures like Maharana Pratap".
"The strategy of mobilising the various Dalit castes of UP individually rather than as a consolidated whole is keeping in mind the highly caste-divided nature of the state. Winning in elections in UP depends more on the number of castes a party is able to enfold than on promises of roads, hospitals and schools that will benefit all people", Narayan adds.
Narayan is also sceptical of Mayawati`s recent strategy to win over a section of upper castes, which had enabled her party to come to power in the state with an absolute majority on its own in 2007 assembly polls.
"Bahujan to sarvajan dilutes the feeling of Bahujan identity in the Dalits. This bridge can only be built when Dalits enjoy the same living standards as the upper castes, a situation that exists only in the realm of imagination. The upper castes of UP, too, cannot accept Dalits as their social equals, even if they occupy high offices, because of the vast cultural differences between the two groups", Narayan says.