Observing that the life of an underdog is always difficult,Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi Tuesday said that Dalits needed the escape velocity of Jupiter to achieve success,and promised to create a Dalit leadership at every level of his party.
Rahuls comments at a Scheduled Caste conference were seen as a bid to reach out to the community,and came as his party planned to redefine its engagement with them.
He also used the event to launch a scathing attack on BSP supremo Mayawati,saying she did not allow other Dalit leaders to grow.
Rahul has been trying hard to reach out to the Dalits,especially in Uttar Pradesh where the Congress has ceded its Dalit support base to the BSP,with his much-publicised sleepovers in Dalit homes,but with limited electoral success.
Addressing the conference organised by the National Scheduled Caste Commission,Rahul spoke about the near absence of Dalit leadership. In an obvious reference to Mayawati,he said one or two Dalit leaders were not enough to take their movement forward. Lakhs of Dalit leaders are needed,he said,and added that there was an opportunity for the Congress to create leadership space in the community.
Drawing an unlikely parallel,he spoke about the escape velocity of Earth and that of Jupiter in the context of dalit empowerment.
The escape velocity of Earth is 11.2 km/sec while that of Jupiter is 60 km/sec. In India we have the concept of caste. There is an escape velocity here also. For a Dalit to achieve success the escape velocity required is that of Jupiter. More effort is needed, Rahul said.
According to Rahul,Dalit empowerment in India has taken place in stages: the first involving B R Ambedkar,who along with the Congress contributed in drafting the constitution and ensuring reservation for them,and the second led by Kanshi Ram,who used the empowerment from reservations to build a political outfit.
While he acknowledged that Mayawati did play a role in the second stage,he argued that she had captured the leadership of the dalit movement and went on to allege that she doesnt allow others to rise.
Rahul pointed out that there was a big opportunity for the Congress to reach out to dalits and systematically prepare a dalit leadership at every level from panchayat members to MLA to MP and even at the policy level.
He also addressed another conference organised by the Valmiki foundation where he showcased the anti-manual scavenging bill passed by Parliament recently.
I wish to see a day when I can see the youth who are sitting here in the legislative assemblies and Parliament, Rahul said. We always give wrong names to our bills. This is actually a right to dignity bill, he said referring to the The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill,2012.
Sources in the party said Rahuls team had come up with a blueprint to re-work the partys engagement with dalits,once the partys mainstay. He had recently appointed former IAS officer K Raju as head of the partys SC department. Raju – who had served in the Sonia Gandhi-headed National Advisory Council – has already prepared a dalit outreach blueprint for the party.
The four-point plan,prepared by Raju and cleared by Rahul,includes identifying and nurturing leaders from the Scheduled Caste communities,increasing their presence at the leadership levels to make their voice heard at all party fora,involving them in drafting of laws related to them and having Congress workers raise dalit issues in every village.
The electoral impact of the move,party leaders feel,would be long-term. Of the 700-odd MLAs belonging to the Scheduled Castes,the Congress has around 120. We need to increase this tally, a senior leader said.
At the meeting,Rahul also invoked his grandmother and former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
Rahul said she had narrated an anecdote to him years ago about how she had cheered for a team playing against host Germany – then ruled by Adolf Hitler.
The whole stadium shouted against her. She sat down in fear but decided that never again in her life she will ever sit down in fear… If somebody is doing anything wrong never sit down, he said.