Patna: Battle lines drawn in Bihar for the next year’s general elections appear to be going off script, with slogans of “Jai Bhim” being pitched directly against the “Jai Sri Ram” slogans. An understanding is developing between the Dalits, the Other Backward Castes and the Muslims that gives pole position to the Dalits in the Hindi heartland of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
Lalu Yadav’s son Tejashwi Yadav — with his party’s support base of Other Backward Castes and Muslims — is out to stitch up a coalition with Dalits. It was also the key to the understanding between Dalit powerhouse Mayawati and Samajawadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, which led to reverses for the BJP in the recent by-elections in the two most prestigious seats in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh.
Over the last few weeks, Tejashwi Yadav has been heard shouting Dalit slogans of “Jai Bhim” and “Jai Mandal” in Dalit-dominated areas. In a first, his party has celebrated the birth anniversary of Dalit icon Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar. On Monday, his elder brother Tej Pratap Yadav chose to celebrate his 29th birthday at a Dalit area in Patna.
On Sunday, a meeting by Muslim groups in Patna, attended by more than 3 lakh people, called for a return of the old formation of Dalits, Backward Castes and Muslims. Wali Rahmani, one of the key speakers, called upon Muslims to extend support to Dalits. “After all what ‘s the crime of the Dalits? In the time of their crisis, we have to be all together,” Mr Rahmani was heard saying.
Over the last year, the attacks on Dalits and minorities by cow vigilantes have given rise to a perception that the BJP is anti-Dalit. The recent strike called by Dalits over the Supreme Court order on the law meant to curb atrocities on the community was accompanied by violence across five cities. The Dalit groups made it clear that their protest was as much against the court order as against the government. The Centre’s tardiness in filing an appeal for a review of the order was seen as evidence of its reluctance to get justice for Dalits.
The BJP has since tried to dispel the perception. While allies from Bihar like Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Ram Vilas Paswan have repeatedly called for a course correction, BJP’s top ministers and even party chief Amit Shah have spoken of their support for the Dalit cause.
But the Bihar leaders have indicated that more needs to be done. Over the last few days, especially during the birth anniversary celebrations of BR Ambedkar, Mr Kumar, his deputy Sushil Modi and Mr Paswan reiterated that nobody will do away with reservations – a concern raised by the anti-reservation rally held days after the Dalit groups’ Bharat Bandh.
Sources said the leaders are aware that even if the Union government passes an ordinance on the SC/ST Prevention Of Atrocities Act to keep it in its old form, the reservation issue cannot be addressed by the government in the short, one-year window before the elections.