How the Dalit issue could throw a spanner in BJP’s Bihar game plan5 min read
The BJP can’t just think of retaining power at the Centre without the support of Bihar, but it has already made two mistakes in quick succession.
It had committed the first mistake by going mysteriously silent over the observations made by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat with regard to reservations during the 2015 Assembly polls in Bihar. By the time Prime Minister Narendra Modi could open his mouth and issue a clarification, it was all over – Bihar had gone to the three-party mahagathbandhan or grand alliance. It’s another issue that the BJP managed to grab power 20 months later.
The current issue of debate in Bihar is that the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre has committed the blunder by reacting rather late to the March 20 order by the Supreme Court, which ruled “no arrest can be made under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act without prior permission”. This is bound to have serious political repercussions in the days to come.
With the next Lok Sabha polls barely a year away and caste being a major issue in the elections, the government should have acted fast, but it rushed to file review petition when Dalits had already decided to express their anger. Even BJP’s allies have supported the Dalit protests saying it was “genuine”, indicating the seriousness of the situation in the NDA camp.
“The Bharat bandh and protests on the streets were expected, as Dalits and tribal communities in the country are angry and disappointed,” said Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) parliamentary board chairman Chirag Paswan, son of Ram Vilas Paswan. The JD(U), BJP’s another ally, on the other hand, led a delegation of state lawmakers to the Bihar governor, demanding cancellation of order as passed by the SC with regard to the SC/ST Act.
Both these parties draw its strength from the Dalit community. While Dalits have been the main vote-bank of the LJP headed by Ram Vilas Paswan, the JD(U) too has recently wooed this vast community by constituting a Mahadalit Commission to work for their economic and social betterment. Their anger as seen during the Bharat bandh, thus, is worrying the NDA allies who apprehend they are bound to sink if the Centre didn’t raise the issue forcefully before the apex court.
As per 2011 Census, Dalits constitute a significant 16 per cent of Bihar’s 104 million population, which amply indicates their political strength. The “softness” of the BJP towards this major issue, thus, could ultimately force its two key allies to dump the NDA as they wound not like to risk their political career.
Given the situation, the BJP could pay a heavy price in the next polls, experts say. The BJP has already seen it from a close when it lost the power by whisker during the 2015 state elections for failing to give clarifications over reservation on time. Things were working in favour of the BJP until the RSS chief committed the mistake of favouring a review of country’s existing reservation policy.
The comments were immediately lapped up by RJD chief Lalu Prasad who made it an issue, telling the vast backward and Dalit community as to how the BJP was conspiring to scrap the reservation of the socially marginalised castes. The issue ultimately united the vast Dalits, backwards and extremely backward castes who were divided into various segments.
This ultimately spoiled the poll prospects of the NDA which ended up winning only 58 seats in 243-member Bihar Assembly.
That all is surely not well for the NDA is underlined from that fact that the Dalit community in Bihar is already said to be seething with anger over the way local courts, of late, acquitted all the accused persons involved in at least six Dalit massacre cases.
It all began in March 2009 when a trial court in Jehanabad district acquitted all the 10 accused persons for “lack of evidence” in Narayanpur massacre in which 11 Dalits had been gunned down by banned Ranvir Sena, a private militia of upper caste landlords.
Again in April 2012, the Patna High Court acquitted all the 23 persons accused of shooting dead 21 Dalits at Bathani Tola for lack of evidence. The same accused persons had earlier been convicted by the lower court and even sentenced – three were handed out death whereas the rest were awarded life imprisonment.
Same happened with all the 11 accused of Nagri massacre, who all were acquitted by the Patna High Court in March 2013 for lack of evidence. Here in this case too, all the 10 victims were Dalits who were killed in cold blood in Bhojpur district in 1998.
Again, the Patna High Court acquitted nine out of total 10 accused in the killing of 32 Dalit villagers at Miyanpur village in Aurangabad district in 2000. The acquittal came in July 2013 and the reason for it was the same – lack of evidence.
Similar judgment came in the Laxmanpur-Bathe massacre in which all the 26 accused charged with the massacre of 58 Dalit villagers were acquitted by the Patna High Court for lack of evidence. The blood-curdling incident had taken place in Jehanbad district in December 1998. After years-long trial, the Patna High Court finally acquitted all the 26 accused persons in October 2013 for lack of evidence.
All the accused persons had earlier been convicted by a local court – 16 of them were handed out death sentence whereas the rest were awarded life term.
Again, a local court in January 2015 acquitted all the 24 accused in the 1999 massacre of 23 Dalits at Shankar Bigha village in Jehanabad district for lack of evidence. The incident has drawn widespread condemnation from all sections after which then governor Sundar Singh Bhandari had recommended for President’s rule in Bihar although it didn’t last long.
What is strange is that all the acquittals came in between 2009 and 2015 when Nitish Kumar-led NDA government remained in power in Bihar, and the message has not gone down well within the Dalit community. This surely could mar the prospects of the NDA in the coming polls.
“The acquittals, in fact, are massacre of justice. It says there are no takers for the Dalit people in the state. The fact is that Dalits were killed in all the massacres and it’s also a fact that all the accused walked free. So who killed Dalits? The court should have answered this question,” said a Dalit leader who didn’t wish to be named.