Out of my mind: The battle begins

The battle lines for 2019 will be drawn around Congress representing an inclusive Hindu identity. The Opposition will paint the BJP as anti-Dalit, recalling the suicide of Rohith Vemula and other incidents.

Written by Meghnad Desai | New Delhi | Updated: January 7, 2018 5:34 pm
Maharashtra caste violence: Alert sounded in MP districts; dozen vehicles damaged Bhima Koregaon incident proved once again that history divides Indians more than it unites them. (Express Photo)

Barely three days into the new year and the political landscape is changing fast. Mumbai was the focus of two upheavals. The first was the death of 14 young people in the fire which engulfed the 1 Above pub in Parel. It was a predictable case of arcane and archaic regulations being imposed but not followed. Worse than the deaths was the callous ‘I do not care as my position is safe’ attitude displayed by the BMC leaders. Municipal governance in our metros is abysmal.

Then we had the explosion on Tuesday following the bicentenary celebrations of the Bhima Koregaon battle. It proved once again that history divides Indians more than it unites them. The monument celebrates the valour of the Mahar soldiers who helped the British deliver a final blow to the Maratha Empire. There was no chance the Peshwas would ever have recruited Mahars as soldiers. The British learned from the French to build up local armies by recruiting the rejected castes wherever they needed to. They trained them, paid them regularly and earned their gratitude and valiant support. The British may have been oppressors for the old ruling classes. For Dalits, they were the liberators.

It was out of these roots that Bhimrao Ambedkar came. He along with other leaders of backward castes like Ramasamy Naicker — the Periyar trusted the British more than the Congress which they considered to be a high caste Brahmin organisation. Ambedkar had to compromise with Congress when Gandhiji’s fast unto death compelled him to sign the Yerawada Pact sacrificing reserved seats for Dalits. His defeat was to cost Dalits 50 lost years of advancement. The Periyar was more effective and his Dravid movement has kept Congress out of Tamil Nadu since 1967.

What we see now is the dynamics of the struggle over the Dalit vote bank. Mayawati has lost her prominent position. Narendra Modi realised the importance of the Dalit vote bank and convinced his Hindu orthodox party to become inclusive. The UP elections showed the results. Even so, the BJP hardcore has no love for Dalits and are readily drawn into violence against them. Hence Una and the Dalit anger. The new generation of young leaders of Dalits flexed their muscles in Gujarat and they are now moving on to the national stage.

The battle lines for 2019 will be drawn around Congress representing an inclusive Hindu identity. The Opposition will paint the BJP as anti-Dalit, recalling the suicide of Rohith Vemula and other incidents. Modi has to insist that he meant what he said about Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas. He has launched Mudra, honoured Ambedkar fulsomely and played his OBC identity as a calling card for the less well off.

Modi had to win over the core BJP supporters to extend its reach to OBCs and Dalits. This is how he secured a 100 more seats in 2014 than Vajpayee had won in three previous elections. Modi needs to keep the hardcore BJP cadre willing to be friendly to Dalits. His difficulty is that the more elections he wins the more arrogant the BJP MLAs and MPs become. To win again Modi needs to hold the Centre ground. The ideologues in his party want to push the Hindutva agenda. Can Modi keep them back?

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  1. Socrates Santos
    Jan 8, 2018 at 3:17 am
    I think both those (anti-BJP) applauding Sir Meghnad Desai's article as well as those (pro-BJP) criticizing the author, have not understood the essence of what he is conveying - the sad, sad truth that instead of uniting, Indian history is being exploited by the anti-BJP political forces to divide the nation even further. His article puts dalits - including Ambedkar "who came from these roots" - in a shameful position of being pro-British in the national Independence struggle ("Dalits considered British as liberators") AND Desai puts CONgress in an even more embarrassing position of by suggesting Ambedkar did not trust CONgress "which he considered to be a high caste Brahmin organization". Does it not sound like what today's CONgress accuses BJP of being? Clearly, CONgress has used dalits only as a vote bank to push back erstwhile Jansangh-RSS and stay in power. Read again - the article is accurately anti-CONgress and pro-Modi. And enough of dalit, dalit... them, think poor.
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    1. Balakrishnan Hariharan
      Jan 7, 2018 at 7:03 pm
      It is very evident that the writer has NOT READ the excellent research thesis - " Breaking India : Western Interventions in Dalit and Dravidian Faultlines (2011) ". I see a number of parallels between that researched and reports of what happened at Bhima Koregaon. It was NOT a Dalit agitation. It was a violent agitation fanned by anti - India forces. Let's get real please.
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      1. Brigadier Gen
        Jan 7, 2018 at 6:31 pm
        For sake of power Congress can go any extent to divide Hindu society. They wanted power in 1947 and got the nation divided.
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        1. Ananth Narayan
          Jan 7, 2018 at 6:22 pm
          Muni l governance in Indian metros is abysmal. Absolutely right / History divides Indians Absolutey wrong. The right answer is Islam divides Hindus. The British were neither Oppressors or Liberators of any castes in Hindustan. They just liberates India as a whole from Islamic rule. Periyar led the dravidian movement to corner more looties for the dravidians from the Brahmins. He played a pucca communist since the geopolitical winds in those days blew towards communism. Now the winds are blowing towards capitalism. If Hindutva aligns with this 'ism' it will win. Political parties are just like tools to achieve this agenda and not an end itself. Lastly, very difficult to believe that Meghnad Desai wrote this article.
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          1. Ananth Narayan
            Jan 7, 2018 at 6:20 pm
            Muni l governance in Indian metros Absolutely right / History divides Indians Absolutey wrong. The right answer is Islam divides Hindus. The British were neither Oppressors or Liberators of any castes in Hindustan. They just liberates India as a whole from Islamic rule. Periyar led the dravidian movement to corner more looties for the dravidians from the Brahmins. He played a pucca communist since the geopolitical winds in those days blew towards communism. Now the winds are blowing towards capitalism. If Hindutva aligns with this 'ism' it will win. Political parties are just like tools to achieve this agenda and not an end itself. Lastly, very difficult to believe that Meghnad Desai wrote this article.
            (0)(9)
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