With the assault on Dalits for skinning a dead cow in party-ruled Gujarat snowballing into a political controversy, the BJP, worried over how it would impact its prospects in the coming elections, initiated a major firefighting exercise by fielding leaders to defend the state government.
It also took swift action against its Uttar Pradesh vice-president Dayashankar Singh, who added to the BJP’s troubles by saying BSP supremo Mayawati’s actions were worse than those of a prostitute.
Barely two hours after Finance Minister Arun Jaitley expressed his regret in Parliament for the party leader’s remarks against Mayawati, the BJP removed Dayashankar from his post. “I am personally hurt that a BJP partyperson used such derogatory words against Mayawatiji. I should tell her that the party shares her grief. I will look into this matter, we stand with her,” Jaitley said.
During the day, the BJP, which had identified the anti-reservation comment by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat as one of the reasons for its defeat in Bihar, urgently called a press conference attended by Union ministers belonging to the Dalit community and some Gujarat MPs.
Union Minister Thawar Chand Gehlot slammed the Congress and BSP for their attempts to draw “political mileage” from the incident. “The state government was very fast in taking the necessary action. So far, 17 people have been arrested. As far as my ministry is concerned, we will provide Rs 5 lakh compensation to the affected Dalit families,” Gehlot, flanked by other Dalit ministers, Arjun Ram Meghwal and Krishna Raj, told reporters.
Asked about some Muslims being attacked in parts of the country over similar charges related to cows, the minister insisted that his party believed in harmony and did not discriminate along caste or religious lines.
BJP’s own ally and Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan met the Home Minister demanding action on the issue.
Dalits form a crucial vote bank in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, constituting more than 20 per cent and 32 per cent respectively of the population. The BJP leadership and government have initiated a number of schemes to woo the community.
BJP leaders admit that attacks against Dalits in party-ruled states, abuse of Dalit leaders or the Opposition’s efforts to paint BJP as an anti-Dalit party — such as in the Rohith Vemula issue — would be “extremely damaging” for the party.
The Gujarat incident, involving the sensitive issue of cow slaughter, particularly had the potential to “consolidate Muslims and Dalits” in UP against the BJP, they fear. “That would be fatal to the party’s prospects and drown all efforts by PM Modi to placate the Dalit community,” said a BJP leader.