The BJP has extended its efforts to woo Dalits to an attempt at appropriating the legacy of a relatively little-known leader of the community, Jogendra Nath Mandal, who had served as the law minister in Pakistan’s first cabinet. As has been the case with Dr B R Ambdekar, already included by the RSS in its selected pantheon of modern Indian personalities to be treated as icons, the pitch remains the same here: “They [Dalit leaders] disliked Muslims” and hence a “Dalit-Muslim unity is impossible”.
With the BJP fighting against the prospect of a Dalit-Muslim consolidation building under the BSP’s umbrella in the forthcoming Uttar Pradesh elections, party leaders are finding ways to drive a wedge between the two communities who add up to around 40 per cent of the electorate in that state.
RSS ideologue Rakesh Sinha, director of the think-tank India Policy Foundation, recently asserted that “Dalit-Muslim unity is impossible”. He was speaking at the launch of the foundation’s journal Pakistan Watch, which he has edited and which has a cover story on Mandal who, one article says, was later “disillusioned” with “Muslim society” in Pakistan and made his “ghar wapsi” to his “motherland” in 1950 and “lived the rest of his life in peace”.
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Sinha noted that Dalits have everything to lose if they ally with Muslims. With him on stage were two of the most senior RSS members, joint general secretary Dattatreya Hosabale and all-India prachar pramukh Manmohan Vaidya, both of them trustees of Policy Foundation.
Hosabale said, “The story of J N Mandal clearly shows how Dalits were lured by the Muslim League’s politics which proved disastrous for them. They were left with only two options — either get forcibly converted or migrate to India. Mandal’s realisation about his destiny is a great lesson.”
About the choice to project Mandal as a hero, Sinha told The Indian Express, “He was the first Dalit leader who, unlike Babasaheb Ambedkar, experimented with a Dalit-Muslim alliance in politics, but later revolted against the idea of Pakistan and the alliance. He realised that Islamic forces can never embrace Dalits, because they always view them from the same prism as Aurangzeb and other Mughal rulers did.”
The foundation, Sinha said, will aggressively carry forward the discourse on Mandal. Copies of the journal have been sent to BJP and RSS leaders.
An impact is already being felt across the border. Days after the journal was launched, Pakistani newspaper Daily Times carried an article by Lahore-based lawyer Yasser Latif Hamdani on the Dalit leader.
“Mandal’s story would sound the death knell to the entirely contrived ideology of Pakistan that has been rammed down our throats,” Hamdani wrote. He added that “the two-nation theory that Jinnah championed meant something entirely different from what it has come to mean to the Nazaria-e-Pakistan crowd today”. “His letter of resignation makes painful reading for any Pakistani patriot. It shows that rot set in very early on, and most of our actions since have only made life unbearable for Pakistan’s dwindling religious minorities,” he wrote.
In Pakistan Watch, Sinha writes, “He [Mandal] had been used by Pakistani authorities just as a mask of their liberal pretentions.” Sinha quotes Pakistani poet Akhtar Baloch, who wrote of Mandal: “You have died for them, but they won’t bother to attend your funeral.”
Sinha told The Indian Express that “there have been attempts after partition to forge an opportunistic alliance between Dalits and Muslims, but such an alliance is unrealistic and anti-Dalit”.
The idea comes at a time when the BJP has been stressing that its fight in UP is with the SP with the BSP nowhere in contention. Aimed at preempting a Dalit-Muslim alliance, this recent statement has been repeated by several leaders from party chief Amit Shah to UP BJP president Keshav Prasad Maurya. This stand is in contrast with what the BJP had been saying until recently: it had acknowledged Mayawati as the biggest challenge. Explaining the change in strategy, a BJP leader said: “At present, Muslims are divided between the SP and the BSP, and there is an indication that they might shift to Mayawati who is seen as a better contender.”
Should the rhetoric of an SP-BJP fight end up confusing Muslims voters and should they stay with the SP, the BJP would gain.
Jogendra Nath Mandal presided over the inaugural session of the Pakistan Constituent Assembly and became the president of its drafting committee. Around the same time, India also had a Dalit as the president of the drafting committee. The journal Pakistan Watch claims that the Dalits of Sylhet decided to join Pakistan only after he campaigned in Sylhet on the instructions of M A Jinnah in 1947 and convinced the community leaders to embrace the Muslim League. However, Mandal was soon “disillusioned with his political-ideological experiment [with the Muslim League] as well as an Islamic mindset which solicited his support and later slaughtered his hope”. The journal also features his resignation letter dated October 8, 1950, to Pakistan’s Prime Minister, protesting against the persecution of Dalits and Hindus in Pakistan. He later returned to India.